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The Reverend Canon Michael Smith (Pastor)
….. and the walls came tumbling down ……
Sunday 14 October 2018 4pm Evensong
Joshua 5.13-6.20 & Matthew 11.20-end
The story of the walls of Jericho falling is one of the best known Old Testament stories. It has been told, retold and sung about over countless generations. Not surprisingly for the Old Testament, the miraculous breaching of the city walls was in the context of a war – God intervenes to ensure victory for the Israelites.
Rather than exploring the meaning and significance of the story as it appears in the book of Joshua, I want to explore walls, and the breaking down of walls, in broader terms.
Any mention of walls today quickly ends up with people talking about the promise made in the Presidential campaign in the USA a couple of years ago to build a wall along the border between the USA and Mexico. The argument for such a wall is that, among other things, it would keep drugs and illegal immigrants out of the USA. The proposed wall would be 2,000 miles long and would cost in the region of $18 billion. It seems ridiculous, but it is worth remembering that the Great Wall of China was built hundreds of years ago and is over 13,000 miles long and it is impossible to estimate how much that cost. Of course, it is not difficult to find people who think building a wall between the USA and Mexico is a terrible idea. Some politicians in the USA and beyond have fiercely criticised the idea and I suspect that if we took a vote here this afternoon the majority of us would be against the building of this wall or the building of any walls between nations – they never seem to help – look at Bethlehem today and remember the rejoicing when the Berlin wall came down.
It is very easy to be critical of the idea of building walls between nations and demonising those who suggest such plans, but the danger is that being critical of others for wanting to build walls between different peoples is a sure fire way of ignoring the way we all build walls to protect what we consider to be ours.
People of faith are great wall builders. We build walls of certainty – I know what God is saying to me, I understand the precise meaning of scripture. We build walls of tradition – we have always done things this way, it would be wrong to change. We build walls of denominations – my version of faith is better than yours, God is obviously Church of England.
Political people are also great wall builders. They build walls of ideology – my world view is more accurate than yours therefore whatever I think will make the world a better place is right. They build walls of fear – if we do not do things my way there will be catastrophe.
Ordinary people in ordinary situations can also be master wall builders. We all have a tendency to build walls of certainty – my version of what I think is true, or want to be true, is the only version, anyone who contradicts it is wrong. We also build walls by belittling or demonising those with whom we disagree – if someone I disagree with is stupid or evil then I do not need to engage with them at all, I can shut them out of my thinking.
Ironically some of the greatest wall builders I have met are people who consider themselves to be liberal. Some of the most disturbing conversations I have had in recent years have been about our relationship with Europe with good, liberal minded people who effectively close down conversations about Brexit by being so sure of their particular view. I am aware of families and relationships which have been put under terrific pressure because of the walls people build around their particular view of Brexit.
Pushing the metaphor to an extreme, I would say that the walls we construct in these ways are made firmer and more impenetrable because many of us reinforce them with the rock solid mortar of social media. With a few ill-considered clicks on a keypad we can fix our views and make our criticisms of others in ways that can cause lasting damage.
Having said all this we have to accept that some walls and boundaries are necessary and important. For there to be order instead of chaos and anarchy, there need to be some walls and borders.
So where do we go from here?
In the summer I went to see ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ at the ‘pop-up’ Globe near Clifford’s Tower. One of the best and funniest sections of the play was the part where Shakespeare has one of the characters play the part of a wall. There was a huge amount of humour in the scene where two lovers seek to communicate through this human wall. This is, of course, a ridiculous premise, but it does, I believe, give us a clue about how we can establish and live with walls and boundaries creatively. The point is that there has to be humanity, humour and graciousness involved. All the walls we erect should have some flexibility and, like the wall in a Midsummer Night’s Dream, they should have ears, so that we can truly listen to the views of others and consider the possibility of changing our own views. We also have to accept that like the city walls around Jericho, the walls we invest so much time and energy in creating, may also be demolished by God. Yes, there is truth in faith. Yes, there is truth in politics. Yes, there is truth in ordinary situations of ordinary everyday life, but no one has a monopoly on that truth. While it is good and right to form and express opinions and views on what is true and right, we must always hold those views and opinions knowing that God has a habit of breaking down the walls we build to protect those views. We should also remember that Jesus developed an entire ministry largely based on breaking down barriers, trampling over social taboos and redefining many of the firmly drawn boundaries the religious and social elite had established in his day.
Let us be wary of walls and careful not to assume the walls we build to protect our views and beliefs are fixed for all time. Like the wall in a Midsummer Night’s Dream, our walls need ears to listen to others with different views in such a way that our understanding of what is true and right might change, develop, mature. We also need to be ready for the possibility that God may destroy the walls we build so that our understanding or our views become totally vulnerable to change. God made the walls of Jericho tumble down, maybe God will make the walls we build in our arrogance tumble down as well?
Let us pray
O God, grant that looking into the face of the Lord, as into a glass, we may be changed into his likeness, from glory to glory. Take out of us all pride and vanity, boasting and forwardness, arrogance and defensiveness; and give us the true courage which shows itself by gentleness and vulnerability; the true wisdom which shows itself by simplicity; and the true power which shows itself by modesty. We make our prayer through Jesus Christ, who is never confined and is the way, the truth and the life. Amen
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